This past August, the Friends of Flying Santa held a ceremony at the Nobska Point Lighthouse in Woods Hole, Massachusetts to rededicate a lost plaque that honored World War II Navy aviator Albert S. Aucoin, who was a long time pilot to Edward Rowe Snow, the longest and most notable Flying Santa to the lighthouse keepers of yesteryear.
In the late 1950s Albert Aucoin signed on as a pilot for Wiggins Airways in Norwood, Massachusetts, which led to his connection with the Flying Santa.
Edward Rowe Snow, the noted maritime author, historian, and educator, who was the Flying Santa for over four decades, had the good fortune to be assigned Aucoin as his pilot for his annual Santa flights where he would drop gifts to the lighthouse keepers and their families at Christmas time.
Aucoin quickly learned the unique ways that the Flying Santa employed to deliver Christmas packages. (It is much easier today with helicopters which are used by the Friends of Flying Santa, the nonprofit group that continues the tradition. Now they can land and hand-deliver the gifts with relative ease.)
However, fifty-years ago, with fixed wing aircraft, it was a much different story. It usually involved three passes at each lighthouse or Coast Guard station. The first pass was to alert the keepers or crews to the arrival of Santa, the second pass was the bombing run, where the pilot would be required to fly at an altitude of 100 feet at 100 miles per hour.
As he got over his target, Mr. Snow would chuck the package out the open window of the plane. The final pass would be to see if the delivery was successful. And more often than not, the recipients would be standing by, waving and holding the packages above their heads.
However, at that speed, there were bound to be some failed deliveries. One year a package broke through the skylight of the keeper’s house at Ipswich Lighthouse. Another year, a package smashed the windshield of the truck at Station Chatham. And at Monhegan Island Light Station in Maine, a row of picket fencing was wiped out by one off target delivery. But these were the exceptions.
Snow was proud of a success rate of over 90 percent. This was of course due in large part to the skill of pilots like Albert S. Aucoin.
Tragically, in August of 1964, Mr. Aucoin was killed in a plane crash in Falmouth, Massachusetts. In his honor, the following year Mr. Snow and the Massachusetts Marine Historical League gathered at Nobska Point Lighthouse with the Aucoin family and friends and dedicated a plaque in his memory.
It hung for many years before being taken down, most likely during a renovation project, and unfortunately was lost. After inquiries from the family, the Friends of Flying Santa decided to remedy this loss by commissioning and rededicating a new plaque.
Joining them at the August 4, 2013 ceremony at Nobska Point Lighthouse were Mr. Aucoin’s sister, Dora, his wife Kaye, daughter Judy, and many other relatives who traveled from as far away as Nova Scotia in Canada. Also on hand were USCG Captain John Kondratowicz, and his family, and one of the current Flying Santas - Tom Guthlein - and his wife Vicki. The gracious host for the event was Nobska Point Light keeper Mike Bedard who provided assistance in hanging the plaque and giving tours to the Aucoin family.
Brian Tague of the Friends of Flying Santa said, “Over the years numerous Flying Santa pilots have contributed to the success of our program. Enough cannot be said of their skill, their enthusiasm, and their dedication to this tradition. They look forward to these flights as much as the children do, if not more.”
The Flying Santa program was started on December 25, 1929 by float plane aviator Capt. William H. Wincapaw as his way of thanking the lighthouse keepers for the lights from the towers that guided him on his flights. To learn more about the Flying Santa program, go to www.FlyingSanta.com. Donations can be made to Friends of Flying Santa, Inc., 82 Elm St., Stoneham, MA 02180-4587.
This story appeared in the
Nov/Dec 2013 edition of Lighthouse Digest Magazine. The print edition contains more stories than our internet edition, and each story generally contains more photographs - often many more - in the print edition. For subscription information about the print edition, click here.
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